My Facebook friend (and real life friend, too!) Elaine replied yesterday when I asked for suggestions for future blog topics. “How to care for an elderly dog. Our dog Goober will be 19 in November,” she said.
Wow, Magic just turned seven. Seren is 16. One is middle aged and the other considered geriatric, and a lot of it has to do with the size of the pet. When our furry friends reach a “certain age” it becomes much more important to stay on top of changes, and just keep ‘em comfy during their golden years.
What is considered “old?” There are individual differences between pets, just as there are for people. While one person may act, look and feel “old” at fifty-five, another fifty-five-year-old remains active with a youthful attitude and appearance. Aging is influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and health care over a lifetime. The oldest dog on record was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived for twenty-nine years and five months.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of her life. However, we can’t accurately predict what an individual pet’s life span will be, so pinpointing when old age begins is tough. Ask the breeder about the life span of your pet’s parents and grandparents. That’s a good predictor of how long you could expect your cat or dog to live. Mixed-ancestry pets are more difficult to predict, but you can make a few generalities.
In the past fifty years, the average life span of small dogs has tripled. They used to live to be only six or seven years old, but today it’s not unusual for your Chihuahua to live into late teens or early twenties. With an average potential life span of fifteen to seventeen years, onset of old age—when a little dog becomes “senior”—would be about age eleven to thirteen.
Even large-breed dogs, which age more quickly, commonly reach ten to thirteen years of age—double the life span of the past few decades. They would therefore be considered old starting at about seven years.
Giant breed dogs (those weighing over eighty pounds or so) tend to age more quickly than smaller pets. Great Danes, for example, are considered “senior” at age five, and typically live only seven to nine years. There are exceptions, of course, with some very large dogs living healthy, happy lives well into their teens.
So you have an old fogey doggy–how do you keep him youthful? What happens when that go-go-go puppy attitude turns into a yen for snoozing the day away? Dogs can become frustrated when their youthful abilities fade away and they’re no longer able to leap tall buildings–or onto sofas–with a single bound, or chase the Frisbee and catch it without effort.
I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.
Enrich the dog’s environment and make accommodations for his new skill set. Agility dogs can still perform all those tricks of fetch and vault, just lower the bar a bit. For blind dogs, put a bell inside the ball or scent with liverwurst so his nose knows where to find it. For deaf dogs, you can use hand signals and replace the clicker with a flashlight beam flicking on and off. Those links go to the puppies.about.com site but they apply to adult and older dogs, too–and even cats. Seren is now pretty deaf, so I stomp a foot to warn her before I pet so she’s not startled.
I have a boatload of more tips and advice in the book Complete Care for Your Aging Dog.
Today’s Ask Amy strikes close to home because my Magical-Dawg is a fetching fool. Currently he’s in his prime and has no problem chasing and leaping until his tongue drags the ground. But since this is Magic’s all-time-favorite-of-them-all (excluding car rides!), I know that FETCH will be a game that helps keep him young even when he’s an old fogey.
Do you have a fetching fool? What about your old dogs–what games do they love? Have you made accommodations for their aging abilities? Please share!
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